Jamie felt a flutter of excitement as he rang the doorbell to the Abernathy home. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and neither doctor had had the day off on Thursday. Claire had mentioned they’d done exactly this last year. Claire had casually asked if Jamie wanted to make a pie or pick one up, and he’d stared at her, bewildered.
Claire eyed him as if he’d asked what color the sky was. “For Thanksgiving?”
“Oh! I...thought ye spent it wi’ Joe’s family...”
She blinked at him like he had two heads. “Yes. And you’re coming.”
And that was that.
This was a big step for them as a couple, as a potential family, and Jamie knew it. He knew better than to make a big deal out of it to Claire, but that simple assumption that of course he’d be celebrating with Claire’s adopted family had made him fit to burst with joy. The next day, Jamie had texted her:
speaking of holidays and families, how do you feel about spending christmas with mine?
She’d replied hours later, likely during her first break of the day:
I’d absolutely love to.
So they were there now. They were officially bringing each other “home for the holidays.” Well, Jamie’s family was coming here to avoid putting Faith through air travel, but still. If somebody had asked Jamie last Thanksgiving or last Christmas if he’d ever imagined this, with her, with them, he’d have told them they were crazy.
That morning, they’d gone to see Moana. The local movie theater did half-priced tickets before noon, and the movie had come out the day before Thanksgiving. Jamie had told Claire that he and his family always went to the cinema on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day; since the closest one to Lallybroch was an hour away, it was a special occasion. Claire had immediately lit up, declaring that they had to go on Thanksgiving. Rather, their makeshift Thanksgiving. Claire had never actually brought Faith to the movies before, but the place was empty aside from one other family, so it was perfect. She was in heaven. She was absolutely enthralled by the hugeness of the screen, the colors, the music. They’d sat near the front in the wider aisle where the railing was, meant for handicapped viewers, so Faith could run around or lean on the railing, dangling Horsie over the edge with her mouth agape. Claire had bought the album on iTunes on the way home, anticipating that Faith would want to play the music all day, and she’d been right. Jamie already knew almost every word to “How Far I’ll Go.” He wondered if it would hold up against “Let it Go” for Faith, but only time would tell.
A gust of November wind brought Jamie back to the moment, and the front door opened to reveal Joe, white teeth flashing against his dark skin in a radiant grin.
“Ah, there he is!” Joe enthusiastically clapped Jamie on the shoulder with one hand, and shook Jamie’s hand with the other. “It is so good to have you here, Jamie.”
“Hello to you too,” Claire said wryly.
“Come on, I see you all the time,” Joe said. At that moment, Faith slipped right out of Claire’s grip and bounded inside, humming loudly and flapping her hands wildly.
Claire rolled her eyes at both Faith’s escape and Joe. Jamie watched with amusement as Gail appeared at the end of the hallway and exclaimed in surprise as Faith barreled into her.
Joe ushered Jamie, Claire, and Angus, leash held by Claire, into the house.
“Well it’s nice to see you, crazy bean!” Gail said, laughing, and Faith disappeared into the living room. “Dee-Dee! They’re here, and Faith is looking for you!”
Jamie handed off the pie (that he’d made from scratch, of course) to Gail, and insisted on helping her finish with the hors d'oeuvres and the drinks. Faith darted about, in and out of the rooms, until the pitter-patter of little feet coming down the stairs had her running back into the hallway. By the time all the adults were settled with finger foods and drinks, Delia and Faith were already in the corner of the room, engaged with dolls and a little house. Even Faith’s Horsie was involved in the game, of course.
“They did this last year too,” Claire said as they sat down on the couch. “We got here and Dee-Dee had a whole spread. It was adorable.”
“She does it every time she knows she’s coming over,” Gail said.
“Aye, I remember her at Faith’s party; she’s a sweet one,” Jamie said fondly.
“Thanks,” Gail said.
“And that one got so big!” Claire exclaimed, looking at Lenny, sat in his own corner with a tablet. “Last Thanksgiving he still looked like a baby.”
“Four years old, you believe that?” Joe said, shaking his head.
“Oh, I believe it,” Claire said, eyeing Faith. “They grow too fast.”
“Oh my gosh, Claire, I never even asked.” Gail said, putting down her drink. “Faith started school!”
“Yeah, she did.”
“You were scared shitless,” Gail dropped her voice to a low whisper.
Claire chuckled. “Yes, I certainly was.”
Jamie put his hand lightly on Claire’s knee, and she took it, seemingly without thinking about it. They laced their fingers together with practiced ease, and Jamie squeezed.
“You mentioned at work the first day went okay,” Joe said. “How’s she been since then?”
“Really good, actually,” Claire said. Jamie could feel the warmth of glowing pride radiating from her. “She stopped having any bathroom problems, finally, and she hasn’t had to call home or either of us at work in a while. Which is good, because it’s hard when I’m at the hospital or if Jamie’s with a client...but I think we’re finally past that.”
“That’s great,” Gail said.
“I can tell she still doesn’t really love it. It’s a bit of a fight to get her on the bus after a weekend or a break. Monday should be really fun,” she rolled her eyes, “but she’s doing it. She’s getting her stickers when she earns them and prizes and after school treats.”
“Claire is doing all the right things,” Jamie cut in. “It’s hard to motivate her sometimes, but as long as she’s on the bus in the morning, then we’ve done all we can do.”
“Right,” Gail said.
“Remember after Labor Day when she would not get on, no matter what I did?”
“Aye, I do. I had to leave the stables to try to get her on myself.”
“I couldn’t believe the driver waited that long.” Claire covered her face and shook her head at the memory. “If that never happens again, it’ll be too soon.”
The adults shared a quiet laugh.
“I see she’s got a communication device now?” Joe said, gesturing to the tablet resting next to Faith. “The school provides that?”
“Yeah,” Claire said. “She’s been getting more and more comfortable with it lately. She still signs for her basic needs, and Mummy, but she loves being able to say ‘Angus,’ and all your names, and Gillian’s name, and Jamie’s. I don’t want her to lose the signing, but this is a great additional tool.”
“Yeah, of course,” Gail said. “I saw that video on Facebook that you posted, when she first figured out the ‘Mummy’ button.”
“Oh, yeah,” Claire smiled fondly at the memory, and so did Jamie. When it had first clicked for Faith that there was a word on her device for every sign, she could not get enough of saying “Mummy,” calling out to her beloved mother in a brand new way. “She did the same thing to Jamie the next time we saw him.”
“Over and over,” Jamie confirmed. “It was sweet.”
“Until the third hour,” Claire said, and Jamie could tell she was only half-kidding. He didn’t blame her at all.
Jamie was about to ask about how Delia was doing in school, how pre-k was for Lenny, when Joe spoke again.
“How are you guys?” He raised both of his eyebrows coyly. “I mean, it seems like it’s...going really well. Yeah?”
Jamie watched a blush creep up Claire’s neck and touch her cheeks with color. She flashed her eyes at Jamie, who felt warmth spreading from head to toe.
“We’re great,” Jamie answered, looking into Claire’s eyes and raising her fingers to his lips. “Really great.”
As Claire approached the door to Jamie’s apartment, shopping bag and leash in one hand, Faith’s hand in the other, she heard a loud shriek from the other side of the door. Faith let go of Claire’s hand to clamp her hands over her ears, and Claire’s stomach dropped.
Off to a great start.
Claire was nervous beyond all reason to meet Jamie’s family. They’d gotten off the plane from Scotland two days ago, wanting to give themselves plenty of time before the holidays, and wanting to meet Claire and Faith at least once before then. Jamie decided on a little pizza party at his place.
Claire begged and pleaded with Faith to calm down, but she would not move until presented with her headphones. Claire sighed in defeat and put them on her. She knew deep down that Jamie’s family would bear no judgement on her in the slightest, but she really hadn’t wanted their first impression of her and her daughter to be flustered mother of an irritable daughter.
The door opened while Claire was still kneeling on the ground, and she looked up in a panic, relief washing over her to see that it was only Jamie.
“Sorry about that,” he said sheepishly. “Wee Jamie is a bit of an imp.”
Claire stood up, laughing nervously. “Oh, hi, sorry.” She tried taking Faith’s hand again, but Faith recoiled, reaching up to Jamie instead. Claire rolled her eyes upward, and Jamie grinned.
“Aye, alright, let’s get ye in out of the cold.” He obliged Faith, lifting her up and settling her on his hip, leading the way into the apartment. Faith rubbed her cheek against Jamie’s, delighting in the stubble, and Claire peered around Jamie to see the face that she’d come to be so familiar with but had never actually seen in person. Jenny was sitting on the couch feeding star-shaped puffs to a toddler, and the just as familiar Ian was holding a little boy over his shoulder.
“Everyone,” Jamie announced. “This is Claire. And this is Faith.”
Jenny launched herself off the couch and handed the baby off to Ian, who expertly handled holding both children at once.
“It’s great to finally meet ye, Claire,” Jenny said, throwing her arms around her in a bone crushing hug.
Claire started in surprise at first, but then returned the embrace. Her embrace was warm, soft and solid all at once, much like Jamie. She was wearing an oversized cream sweater, similar to Claire’s own white cable-knit turtleneck. “Hi, I’m so glad to finally meet you, too.”
“I’m Jenny, as ye probably guessed,” she went on, pulling away from the embrace, but keeping a hand on one of Claire’s shoulders. “That’s my husband, Ian.”
“Hallo,” Ian gestured with his chin in greeting. “This heathen is Wee Jamie,” he turned around to show Claire his face, given that his feet were previously facing her, “and this is Maggie.” He turned back around.
“Great to meet you, all three of you,” Claire said, laughing.
Just then, Claire noticed the man that had appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, smiling down at her. Everything about him was warmth, strength, and comfort.
“Claire,” he said, his voice deep and laced with the deepest affection.
“Hi,” Claire said sheepishly, her smile hurting her cheeks. “It’s an honor to meet you, Mister Fraser. Jamie speaks so highly of you.”
“Och, I’ll no’ have ye calling me that. Ye’ll call me Brian, Da, whatever ye’re comfortable with.” He stepped in toward her and pulled her in for a hug that was somehow tighter than Jenny’s. “Ye’re family, lass.”
Claire squeezed him back, this man she had just met, and tears pinpricked her eyes.
Brian pulled away and gripped her shoulders, looking into her face. “Christ, my heart’s full to see ye.”
“Let her breathe, Da,” Jenny chided. “Here, let me take this. And give yer coats to Ian.” Jenny took the paper bag of crisps and cookies in Claire’s hand like this was her own home and disappeared with it into the kitchen.
Ian put little Jamie down and pointed a threatening finger at him, and the boy grinned impishly as his father took Claire’s coat, then Faith’s, from Jamie.
“Hi!” he burst to Claire. “Are ye my Auntie now?”
“Oi, why d’ye no’ play wi’ the Wii, lad,” Jamie cut in. The boy bounced with excitement, planting his bottom on the coffee table right in front of the tellie. “Quietly, now,” Jamie warned, setting up a game for him with Faith in his arms all the while. She refused to be put down.
“That’s her, then? Wee Faith?” Brian watched as Jamie shifted her to his other hip after finishing setting up Jamie’s game.
“Yes, that’s my girl,” Claire answered, pride warming her chest.
“Beautiful,” Brian breathed, beaming at her as Jamie approached his father. “Yer spitting image.”
“Thank you,” Claire said. She stroked Faith’s cheek, who was still rubbing her face and arms against Jamie’s stubbled jaw.
Brian hummed in amusement. “Willie used to do that to me,” he said. “It’s comforting to them.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” Claire’s eyes flicked nervously to Jamie, but he seemed alright. Perhaps they spoke fondly of Jamie’s brother often. She’d have to get used to that.
Jenny flitted back in from the kitchen and chided her brother for letting her son play with brain-rotting video games, but Jamie just rolled his eyes and sat down, Angus settling at his feet at attention for Faith.
“I didn’t even know you had a Wii,” Claire said, sitting down beside him.
“Aye, well,” he winked, “how else would I kick yer arse in Mario Kart?”
Claire snorted quietly and fought the urge to swat at his arm in front of his family. Ian sat down next to Jamie with Maggie, Brian sat on the leather recliner in the corner, and Jenny sat on the edge of the coffee table facing the couch.
“So! This is the wee lass I’ve heard so much about?” Jenny beamed at Faith.
“Aye, she canna hear ye just now wi’ these on; wee Jamie gave her a fright.”
“Och, I’m so sorry,” Jenny said. “I did try to explain to him — ”
“No, it’s okay. He's so young.”
“Aye, and a menace to society already.” Jenny rolled her eyes, and Claire chuckled. “I’m just grateful he didna make a run fer the dog. He retained that from our talk at least.”
She was obviously referring to the fact that when Angus was working, he could not be pet. Claire did catch a few longing glances at the animal from the little boy, but he was being very good.
After a few minutes, with Angus’s help, Jamie managed to coax Faith into taking the headphones off.
“There you go, good girl,” Claire praised. “She’d never take them off without Jamie here. He’s absolutely wonderful with her.”
“Aye, and she’s quite taken wi’ him as well,” Jenny said smiling at the way Faith was nuzzled into his neck.
“We’ve a…special bond,” Jamie said, his eyes twinkling. “Aye, princess?” He bounced her on his knee, and she giggled.
“Look, lass, this is Jenny,” Jamie said. “Can ye say hi?”
She buried her face further.
“She’s very shy,” Claire explained. “Strangers are a little tricky. But I promise the more she’s with you, the better it gets. Even Jamie was a scary stranger at some point. Right, lovie?”
Jenny and Ian laughed softly.
“I really appreciate you all coming here,” Claire said. “It can’t be easy traveling with little ones.”
“Och, ’twas nae bother,” Ian said. “Glad to do it.”
“We hardly ever get to see Jamie’s place anyway,” Jenny added. “We’ve only been to the Island…what, once or twice before?” Ian nodded in confirmation. “It’s nice to see the life he’s made here. And the stables are just great.”
“Aye, we’re very proud of the work Jamie does,” Brian cut in, the pride oozing out of his every feature.
“You should be. He’s…he’s got a special touch with those kids,” Claire said, unable to stop the heart eyes she knew she was giving Jamie. “He changes lives. I know he changed Faith’s, and mine for that matter. Even before, well…this.” She blushed, realizing she was rambling. Jamie reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze, likely sensing her embarrassment.
“Aye, well it’s good ye ken how lucky ye are,” Jenny said. “Ye’ll no’ find a better man than my brother.”
“Christ, Janet…” It was Jamie’s turn to turn scarlet.
“I’m being nice, Jamie! I could go on instead about how difficult ye are to live with…”
“Claire doesna need a speech about treating me right,” he said. “She’s doing just fine.”
“That wasna what I meant.”
But given the look that Ian shot her, that was indeed what she’d meant. Though a little uncomfortable, Claire did not blame her. Jamie was her little brother after all, and Claire knew by now how deeply he felt things, how sensitive he was. Somebody cruel could tear him to pieces.
“It’s okay,” Claire cut in. “I know what you meant.” She squeezed Jamie’s hand.
“Aye, good. Well, it’s no’ as if it doesna go both ways. When Jamie sent me yer Facebook profile, I gave him an earful about how damned lucky he was,” Jenny said, and Claire bit her lip to stifle a grin.
“What! Ye’re embarrassed? I couldna very well meet her. No shame in sending me something to get to know her by!”
If Jamie could have melted into the couch, Claire was sure he would have.
“Jamie went on and on about ye last Christmas, ye and the lass both,” Jenny explained. Claire’s heart fluttered to think that his family knew about her all the way back then, when she was still so far in denial she couldn’t see past her own nose. “So I was bloody curious what was so special about ye. Didna take long to see it, I’ll say that.” She smiled fondly at Claire, her eyes twinkling.
“Well…thank you. I think.”
“What Jenny is trying to say,” Ian cut in. “Is that we’re glad ye’re here, and we’re grateful to ye fer the joy ye bring our brother. Both of ye.”
“Aye, cheers to that.” Brian lifted his whisky from where he sat and took a sip.
“You know,” Claire said. “I heard all about this little one after the holidays last year.” She looked around Jamie and Faith at Maggie. “Jamie showed me pictures of her. She’s just adorable. I mean, both of your children are beautiful, of course.”
“D’ye want to hold her?” Ian offered.
Claire’s heart fluttered. “Could I?”
“Aye, of course.”
They both scooted forward for the exchange.
“Have to pish anyway.”
Jamie clapped Ian on the shoulder as he got up to leave, and Claire sighed loudly as the small weight settled in her lap.
“Well, hello!” she cooed, smiling enormously at Maggie’s sweet face. “Aren’t you the cutest little thing.” She bounced the baby in her lap, and she smiled lazily at her before breaking into the sweetest little giggles. Claire laughed in response, her head light and dizzy from the euphoria of holding a baby.
“Oh…I haven’t held one this small since Faith,” she sighed. “She’s just so sweet. Such a perfectly behaved baby.”
“Aye, she’s night and day wi’ that one.” Jenny nodded behind her to Jamie, engrossed in the game on the tellie.
Maggie gave another squealing giggle, and Faith abruptly sat up for the first time since burrowing into Jamie’s side.
“Ye look bonny wi’ a bairn, Sassenach.”
Claire looked up from Maggie to see Jamie boring smoldering diamonds into her, and she felt herself turn to a puddle. She’d be lying if she said she’d never thought about having another baby, and she’d also be lying if she said the thought of having one with Jamie hadn’t immediately crossed her mind the second she laid eyes on Maggie’s darling face.
They maintained eye contact for a long moment, and then Faith reached forward and grabbed the baby’s face, and Claire gasped, pulling Maggie into her.
“Gentle, Faith,” Jamie said quickly, as gently as he could muster. “The baby is very wee, and very sensitive. Ye must be gentle.”
“Gentle like with Pippi,” Claire added.
Faith bit her lip and sat up again, and then she gently stroked her fingers down the line of Maggie’s nose. Claire and Jamie both burst out laughing, and Faith hummed loudly, jiggling her hands and bouncing in Jamie’s lap.
“Pippi’s her horse?” Jenny said, chuckling herself.
“Aye!” Jamie said through his laughter, and then Jenny and Brian were also laughing out loud.
“What’d I miss?” Ian returned from the bathroom and sat back down on the couch.
“Faith started petting Maggie like her horse because we told her to be gentle,” Jamie explained, laughter finally subsiding. “Good girl, Faith,” he said.
“Come here, baby,” Claire summoned her closer. Faith clambered onto Jamie’s other leg. “You don’t have to pet her nose. Look.” Claire stroked Maggie’s head, then rubbed her back, all while bouncing her. “See? Gentle.”
Faith hummed loudly again, bouncing and jiggling.
“Calm down, lass,” Jamie crooned. “Ye canna play wi’ the bairn if ye canna be calm.”
Faith managed to stop one of her hands from flapping as she gingerly patted Maggie’s little head. Maggie turned to look at her, and Faith squealed.
“Yes, good job,” Claire said.
“Oh, how sweet,” Jenny said. “Ye’re a sweet girl, Faith.”
Faith did not turn at the sound of her name, but Claire beamed at Jenny. “She loves babies,” Claire said. “One of the moms brought her baby to the stables one day, and I had to hold Faith back from throwing herself in the stroller.”
Jenny chuckled. “She’ll make a braw big sister, then.”
“Janet,” Jamie warned, but Jenny just put her hands up in surrender, and Claire’s cheeks flushed red.
Faith gave another loud hum, and then she scrambled off of Jamie’s lap. She pattered over to the bag Claire had left by the door that contained both of her tablets and some emergency snacks that Claire had packed. She reached in for the school-provided tablet and walked back to the couch, standing in front of Claire and Maggie. She clicked around for a bit, and then she pressed the word she wanted to say.
Claire broke into a stupid, beaming grin. “You want to play with Maggie?”
Faith jumped up and down, letting out a squeal that gave way to a hum. “Play.”
“You’re so smart, good girl, sweetheart,” Claire praised. She looked to Jenny, who motioned for Claire to follow her. Claire set Maggie down on the floor as Jenny set out some toys she had brought.
“Yes, darling, we hear you, one moment please.”
Before long, Jenny had shown Faith all of Maggie’s toys, and Maggie was chewing on one while Faith became engrossed with the little baby piano toy. Jenny sat beside Maggie and Claire beside Faith, each making sure that Faith remained gentle and calm. They conversed over the children and across the room to the men. Claire learned how Jenny and Ian had gotten together, learned about the antics of all three of them growing up together, and at one point, she had tears leaking out of her eyes from laughing so hard at a story Brian told about the lads and the pigsty.
Faith would occasionally take Maggie’s hand and make her press buttons on various toys, some more gentle than others, but Maggie did not seem to mind. Little Jamie only got too loud on his video game one time, and one stern word from his mother was enough to assure it did not happen again.
The pizza delivery arrived, and there was a flurry of motion to get everyone into the kitchen. Parents all made sure that little ones’ hands were clean, and plates and cups were set out. Claire watched in awe as Jamie pulled a pizza plate out of his cabinet.
“Where on Earth did this come from?”
“I bought one,” Jamie said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “If the lass is gonnae eat pizza in my home she’ll have a pizza plate.”
Claire didn’t have the heart to tell him that Faith was not picky about what she ate off of if she wasn’t home, so she let Jamie hand the plate to Faith, both of their faces glowing with joy. Jamie turned around to grab the juice from the fridge and Claire went to help him, and by the time they both turned around, Brian was cutting Faith’s pizza on the plate, and Claire stopped in her tracks to stare.
“Ye’re family, lass.”
Jamie noticed, and he looked back and forth between his father and Claire, his eyes twinkling. He hugged her around the shoulders with one arm and kissed her temple.
“They’re as crazy about her as I am.”
Jamie crossed the rest of the way to the table, and Claire wiped her eyes quickly before following.
“I like her pizza plate,” wee Jamie announced, crossing his arms.
“Well, it’s Faith’s pizza plate,” Ian said firmly. “Ye’ll eat off yer own plate, and ye’ll like it.”
“Why do I no’ get one?”
“Because ye dinna have all the worries and troubles in yer heid that Faith has. The pizza plate helps her feel better. Now eat.”
The table was crowded, not meant for nearly as many people as were there, folding chairs squished between the wooden ones, but they made it work. Maggie was passed between laps so that her parents could eat, and everyone took turns handing her tiny pieces of saucy, non-cheesy, soft pizza to chew on. The conversation passed easily as they talked more about Jamie’s childhood; they even asked about Claire’s. She had plenty to tell about her adventures with her uncle, stories that she loved sharing with anybody who would listen.
Once the pizza was gone, Faith disappeared into the living room and returned with one of the DVDs that Claire had packed. Jamie helped her get it set up, and then little Jamie and Faith were sitting on the couch, watching Lilo and Stitch, and Ian was putting Maggie to sleep in the stroller that they were leaving in Jamie’s room.
The adults stayed at the kitchen table with drinks, and Claire held Jamie’s hand under the table, his other hand stroking her knee and thigh absently. Conversation with this family was easy and familiar, as if she’d known them her whole life. She did not feel like an outsider as she’d predicted she might. The feeling of belonging enveloped her like a warm hug. Then she’d remember Jenny helping Faith play with Maggie, Brian cutting her pizza, Ian explaining to little Jamie why Faith was different, and she would well up with tears.
Family gatherings in England made Claire sick with anxiety and made Faith utterly miserable, which just made everything worse. The Christmas before Frank left, when Faith was three, Claire had cried herself to sleep with his parents’ sneers burned into her subconscious. But this…
This was acceptance, understanding, welcoming, joy, warmth, comfort.
This was family.